I wrote some time ago about Bella Figura which is an Italian expression about embracing life and living in the ‘Now’. I have, having spent time in Greece, found something similar in the Greek language however this time it is about the way you live your life and treat others.
Filotimo or philotimo is a Greek noun comprising of the words philo (verb translated as ‘to like’ or noun translating as ‘friend’) and timo (verb translating as ‘to honour’). It is hard to explain, impossible to translate in one word in any other language and so commonly used among Greeks that it is somehow believed that you are actually born with it and must stand up for it all of your life. And just because filotimo represents a way of life for Greeks it includes ideas and virtues, such as honour, justice, courage, dignity, pride, self-sacrifice, respect, freedom, gratitude and hospitality.
In the past Philhellene German Health Ministry executive, Andreas Deffner, published his book about Greece, its people, customs and the crisis plaguing the country entitled, Filotimo. In his attempt to explain the deepest meaning of the hard-to-translate word, Deffner used the simplified and humorous recipe:
Two or three positive Thoughts, A Litre of joy of life, 500 grams of Hospitality, A whole ripe Friendship, 10 drops of Helpfulness, A little pride, dignity and sense of duty.
Philosopher Thales of Miletus also said that fhilotimo to the Greeks is like breathing. Filotimo is considered to be the highest of all virtues among Greeks and is particularly praised when adversities and misbehaviour occur. It defines behaviour within the family and society.
Learning to live with filotimo begins at an early age when children learn to show respect and love for their parents and grandparents. Growing up, they begin to feel pride for their country and ancestry, help friends with their problems and perform acts out of generosity without expecting anything in return. Being equal with others and respecting them is the key to realising what filotimo means.
In Crete during World War II, the locals risked their lives to help the Australian and British allies escape the Nazi powers, and they did so because of their filotimo, which at the time asked them to do anything within their power to fight for their country and help the foreigners who fought for them too.
I think we could all do with some filotimo in our lives. It costs nothing but is worth so much.